This week we are heading in to Week 5 of the I Quit Sugar 8 Week Program, and one of the focus points this week is trying to dine out and stick to low sugar/ sugar free eating. I absolutely love to go out and try new places, and while not all of them are healthy all of the time (because life is about balance), eating out doesn’t have to be a sugar-laden junk fest. You can find good stuff across a variety of dining establishments and types of cuisines, and eating out doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. We can’t always prepare all of our food, all of the time; life gets busy and plus it’s FUN to go out and enjoy a meal. Here are some common dining out situations / cuisines, and what I would select if I was going for a no-sugar or low-sugar option. Even if you’re not doing the IQS8WP with me these little tips will be super handy!
- Savoury breakfasts rule! Build a healthy, low sugar breakfast plate with typical brekky items like: eggs, bacon, halloumi, cheddar, avocado, spinach, tomato (fresh or grilled), mushrooms and/or any other veggies you can get on the menu e.g. grilled peppers, asparagus, roast pumpkin. Vegans, try to pick something with chickpeas and/or quinoa as a base to build in some plant protein.
- Watch out for chutneys, relishes and sauces. A lot of these will contain a surprisingly huge amount of sugar. Use them sparingly or better still, swap them out and rely on butter, olive oil, herbs, chilli, mustard, salt & pepper and/or fresh lemon & lime to give things an extra punch of flavour.
- If you MUST have something sweet, avoid granola and toasted fruit breads. Try porridge (and ask them to hold the honey) or get a simple fruit salad with unsweetened yoghurt and/or raw nuts (not the lowest sugar option but better than most sweet options).
- If you are a toast person, get avocado/tomato, nut butter or cheese and avoid honey/jam/etc.
- Sandwiches on good quality bread packed with a rainbow of vegetables, protein (e.g. boiled eggs, cheese, grilled chicken, tinned tuna, a few slices of roast beef) and dressed with low-sugar condiments like mustard, avocado, tahini, or a whole-egg mayonnaise.
- Build-your-own or takeaway pre-made salads featuring the same as above. Include a good complex carbohydrate to keep you going for longer e.g. quinoa, sweet potato, brown rice.
- If the salad is pre-made, watch out for dressings; add your own. Low sugar dressings/salad toppings include: olive oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, lemon or lime juice, apple cider vinegar, fresh herbs, chilli.
- Sushi boxes with fresh fish (avoid the seafood stick, mayonnaise, teriyaki options), veggies, avocado and a side salad. Miso soup and sashimi are good, too.
- Asian-style rice noodle soups in a clear broth with protein and extra vegetables.
- Quiche with a side salad (dress the side salad in olive oil).
- Naked burrito boxes with fresh salad, beans, rice, guacamole. If you add meat, choose grilled meat rather than something that’s been marinaded in a sauce, as this is likely to contain sugar.
- Olives, grilled vegetables, cheese and/or toasted almonds are great sugar free starters.
- Some cured meats can be high in sugar as it’s used as part of the preservation process, so go easy, though a slice or so is going to be okay.
- Dishes that are swimming in a whole lot of tomato sauce can contain quite a bit of sugar. While a good quality tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes won’t be too bad, you might not be getting something that natural.
- Why not try something from the grilled section of the menu instead and get it served with roasted vegetables, dressed in olive oil? Many Italian places have great seafood options; maybe it’s not what you think of initially but there are some really delicious options to be had. Whole baked or grilled fish is amazing!
- Fresh sushi packed with salmon, tuna and/or veggies is going to be a safe choice. Add miso soup, which is also a fermented food so good for your belly.
- It can be hard to order a vegetable side at a Japanese restaurant that doesn’t come in a sweet sauce, but try to grab a side plate of salad without the dressing already added if you can. Look out also for plain grilled eggplant or miso eggplant, and steamed spinach.
- The secret sugar bombs on the menu are your meats and veggies cooked in sticky sauces e.g. chicken teriyaki. There’s often a lot of sugar added to these sauces! If you want to get a bowl, try a chirashi bowl. Chirashi means “scattered” and usually means a bowl of rice topped with chopped sashimi-style fish and vegetables.
- Sugar can often be used in Thai stir-fry sauces to give them that rich, sticky sweet tone which is so addicting! It can be hard to choose between a stir-fry that has loads of sugar and those without. If you’re unsure, try something from the grilled section of the menu instead like a grilled pork chop, which will typically come with a sweetened dipping sauce still, but you can more easily avoid using that.
- Curries can still have a fair amount of sugar added to balance the chilli; go easy on slurping the sauce.
- Ask for a side of veggies tossed with chilli and/or garlic for a nutritious and flavoursome boost to your meal.
- Try a Thai salad like a traditional Thai beef or a larb (made with minced meat). Again, they might come with a sugary dressing but you can ask for this on the side and use it sparingly if you need to.
- Vietnamese is kind of similar to Thai food in terms of what to look out for. With Vietnamese I tend to find it’s just a matter of avoiding too much of those dipping sauces! The typical dipping sauce is usually mostly made up of fish sauce, rice vinegar and sugar.
- Try having a traditional pho (rice noodle soup in a clear broth with bean sprouts, fresh herbs and protein of choice, traditionally beef but usually other choices are available).
- Summer rolls packed with fresh herbs, protein, rice noodles and crunchy vegetables are delicious; dip them in a little soy sauce & chilli as a substitute for the typical sweetened dipping sauce.
Pub / Bistro Meal
- Although you might get nervous at the thought of dining out at the local, it’s actually a venue I find to be one of the easiest in terms of avoiding added sugar.
- Low sugar options include steak + veggies, a naked burger (avoid the sugary bun) + veggies, grilled fish of the day, grilled or roasted chicken, mixed salads (choose your dressing wisely), roast meat with potatoes and veggies, grilled vegetable stacks or vegetable fritters for plant-based options.
- Essentially, you’re looking out for simple, uncomplicated mains where the items aren’t drowning in marinades and/or sauces.
So there you go guys, plenty of low sugar inspiration to help you choose better when you’re eating out. Do you have any tips for choosing healthy meals in restaurants? What are some of your favourite places to grab a quick meal on the go? I’d love to hear your ideas!